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Originally published July 6, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 6, 2007 at 2:03 AM

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Jerry Brewer

In his own language, Presti molding an ideal

You don't listen to Sam Presti; you decipher him. In public, he speaks in the broadest, brainiest terms, and you're left to wiggle through...

Seattle Times staff columnist

You don't listen to Sam Presti; you decipher him. In public, he speaks in the broadest, brainiest terms, and you're left to wiggle through the openings he leaves to deduce greater meaning.

The new Sonics general manager has never said the word "rebuilding." His preferred phrase is "establishing a culture."

He has never said he'd rather resort to self abuse — sign a bunch of Mouhamed Senes, perhaps? — than employ a so-called bad guy. His preferred phrase is that he's seeking players who possess "competitiveness, character and skill."

He has never said the Sonics could be unapologetically awful next season. His preferred phrase is that the organization "won't be skipping any steps."

"We don't want our championship to be making the playoffs," Presti said. "We want sustained success."

And for next season, what's the goal?

Uncontained duress?

The Sonics aren't just recreating a team, they're molding an ideal.

It will take time, possibly more time than the Sonics have left in Seattle. A wild first month for Presti peaked Thursday with P.J. Carlesimo's introduction as the new coach.

It's like this entire organization is still in boxes. New GM. New coach. New franchise player. Even after adding some major furniture, the Sonics' room still looks bare. If they must sleep on the floor for a while, so be it.

They're committed to being picky shoppers. It's undeniably a cost-cutting decision, but it's also a philosophical one. Applaud or abhor any of Presti's decisions, but there's no question he snagged exactly the kind of coach he sought, just like he acquired exactly the kinds of players he wanted in the Ray Allen trade, just like he hired exactly the kind of creative assistant general manager he craved in Scott Perry.

Since Presti has been here, the only decision left to chance was the drafting of Kevin Durant No. 2 overall. And even though the Sonics were in line behind Portland, they figured the Trail Blazers would select Greg Oden over Durant.

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So the first phase of this plan has been implemented without fail. The infrastructure of the Sonics' rebuilding has been established. And when proving time comes next season, we will look at the Sonics' work and cringe.

In terms of their record, they are destined to be a bad team, anywhere from 25 to 35 victories. And every time I hear Presti refer to building a team methodically, I take another win off the projected victory total.

We must judge the Sonics differently next season. Gone is the hope that this franchise would keep its team intact, plug in Durant and sneak into the playoffs. Get ready to evaluate this team in a more ambiguous manner.

"We're not trying to patch it together," Carlesimo said. "We're not trying to get it done overnight. It doesn't mean I wouldn't love to get it done overnight, but particularly in the Western Conference right now, particularly with a very young roster, it's going to be a challenge. There's no question about that."

We will have to look beyond the mistakes of pups and critique the Sonics' effort, which can be tricky. We will have to disregard the first half of the season, which figures to be horrid, and see if this team improves in the second half. We will have to discover whether a team can be exciting and overmatched all at once.

And we must give up this dream that a miracle lame-duck season would save this team from relocation.

If the Sonics are to stay in Seattle, political leaders and influential businessmen must to be motivated to save the team because they love having NBA basketball here, not because Durant is the hot new thing. And Sonics chairman Clay Bennett must be motivated to show patience, build goodwill and capitalize whenever there's a chance for momentum.

It's a longshot for both parties to reform. It's a dire situation that will require an intellectual solution, not an emotional one.

Accordingly, Presti must build this team without regard to Seattle politics. Rebuilding is the smart decision, not the emotional one.

For the past five years, the Sonics have been the worst of teams: a mediocre product just good enough to fool itself into believing, with a break or two, good times were ahead. In pro sports, you can only move if you commit to being great — or slash everything and be terrible temporarily. Sometimes, you must travel through terrible to arrive at great.

Presti has some grand beliefs, and if he's right, eventually he will build a monster. If he's wrong, he'll get the Rick Sund treatment.

Decipher him, and you'll be impressed. He has this scholarly approach, but he's practical, too. He's not some Spurs hand-me-down.

And he's not finished remaking this team. The process will take much longer than one summer, however. Another visit to the lottery is in the Sonics' future.

The Sonics are too competitive to admit it, but they know it's true. They can handle it because they're moving, at last. They shouldn't look over their shoulders, however. This movement won't inspire a legion of followers, at least not initially, and especially not if the road ends in Oklahoma City.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com. For more columns and the Extra Points blog, visit seattletimes.com/sports

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About Jerry Brewer

Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
jbrewer@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2277

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